DALLAS—With the theme “Fulfill Your Ministry,” the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors’ Conference speakers sought to encourage and inspire pastors with their messages on Monday (June 11)—the second day of the event.
Pastors also elected Danny Wood, senior pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., as president of the conference during the Monday afternoon session, held in conjunction with the SBC’s annual meeting in Dallas June 12-13.
Speakers addressed the conference as follows:
Using lessons from David’s interactions with King Saul, Ray Pritchard, president of Keep Believing Ministries in Dallas, encouraged pastors dealing with difficult people and situations.
“If you don’t need this sermon now, put it in your back pocket, because you will,” he said, coaching pastors how to survive their critics in the midst of the controversy.
As Pritchard recounted the story of how David spared the life of Saul, the one key question always came to mind, “David, you had a chance! Why didn’t you do it?” Pritchard said he thinks David did not kill Saul because he respected his authority as king, because he was waiting for God to vindicate him, and because he did not want to get down on Saul’s level.
Pritchard’s advice for pastors when critics come their way included admitting their part in the situation, thanking God for the situation, and forgetting about the criticism that comes their way. “We have a friend in high places,” Pritchard said. “He will bring you out.”
He also cautioned pastors to “watch your words” and reminded them of the dangers of social media and Twitter wars. “Before you hit publish, pull your hand back,” he said.
Pritchard concluded with three questions pastors should consider during times of crisis: How much do we really want to be like Jesus? If Jesus had critics, what makes you think that you are going to have it any better? And, what are we in this for?
“Forgive them. That’s my whole sermon,” Pritchard said. “When you forgive your critics, you’ve already survived them.”
Frank Pomeroy, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, said he came to deliver one message at the Pastors’ Conference and arrived to a “possible storm in our convention.” He said that some media are seeking to bring down the SBC, but the choice does not belong to the media. “We can choose to put Christ at the forefront and let Him be the focus of everything we do,” he said. “If we love one another, He will be glorified through that.”
Pomeroy said that on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, “I let my little baby girl out at school. That Friday morning, I told her I was going out of town. On Monday when I got back, we would go out to eat, and she could tell me about the part she earned in the school play. That was not to be.”
During Sunday morning worship services, a gunman entered the sanctuary and killed 26 people, including Pomeroy’s 14-year-old daughter Annabelle, and injured 20 more. It was the deadliest church shooting in U.S. history.
“Instead [of meeting Annabelle] on Monday, I was facing a crowd that wanted to know every detail of the 26 lives lost in our church,” he said. “They were pushing microphones and talking really quickly. But then God sent what I perceived as an angel.”
Pomeroy said a tall, very well-dressed man walked through the scene directly to him and his wife Sherri.
“He wrapped his arms around us and prayed with us. He said ‘you need to keep Jesus at the center of everything you do from this point forward.'”
Pomeroy said he did not know the man and has not seen him since, but his words stayed at the center of their hearts.
“Thank God he was there to give us that message,” he said. “I was very weak that morning. I was processing the loss of our baby girl and many of our best friends. They were asking us to help identify [the bodies of] people in our church. My spirit and my mind were very, very down. I said ‘I’m done.'”
Pomeroy said he kept Jesus as his focus as the events of that morning threatened to sweep him away. Then God told him to go talk to those in the hospitals.
“At the hospital, every person capable of speech could not wait to express how blessed they were and how they could not wait to share the Gospel,” he said. Pomeroy explained the church averaged about 75 in attendance at the time of the shooting but now has about 200.
“We have a temporary facility. We’re meeting in a tent. The worship leader is now paralyzed from the waist down. In the midst of that turmoil, people chose to stand in unity with Jesus Christ. In the midst of that uproar, our church chose to latch their arms with Christ. Because our people stood for Christ, revival is coming.”
Pomeroy said the North American Mission Board stepped in and said “because of all of the churches that give to the Cooperative Program, we are going to build you a church.”
“We need to stop and not be caught in the weeds,” Pomeroy noted. “If we will focus on Christ no matter what the adversity is, the media won’t be able to say anything but ‘here’s the fruit.’ If anything takes our focus away from Jesus, the fruit goes away. God has blessed Sutherland Springs. God can bless the Southern Baptist Convention.”
In his well-known and well-loved sing-song style of wrapping up a sermon, Robert Smith did not disappoint as he concluded the afternoon session of the conference.
Smith, the Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., brought those in attendance to their feet following a detailed charting of Peter’s faith journey.
Using a variety of Scripture references from Peter, Romans, Acts, John, Samuel, Psalms and other books, Smith dissected each of Peter’s moments with the Lord and connected dots between the Old Testament, New Testament and believers of today.
“I’m grateful today that this same Peter who failed, this same Peter that disappointed the Lord knew that God is able to take your benediction and write an invocation,” he said. “I’m grateful that God is able to take your epilogue and make a prologue … that God can lift you from the quagmire of defeat and bring you to a place where you can proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Son of God has finished his salvific work but His refining is ongoing, Smith said. “God sifts us that we might serve Him with integrity and effectiveness.” And throughout all a believer endures in life, the Son of God is praying and the Holy Spirit intercedes, Smith said, quoting Romans 8:26–27.
“The Son prays to the Father for you, and the Spirit prays to the Father for you,” Smith said. “He doesn’t pray that we will not fall but that our faith may not fail. “Whatever He does for us He does for His namesake.”
An overconfident Peter wandered from the direction of the Lord, Smith explained. “The problem with Peter is the problem of us—Peter loved sin more than he loved the Savior.”
But “God is in the business of reminding us of where we are and where He wants to take us, Smith said. “One may never know the significance of a moment until that moment becomes a memory…. All of us should have some memories now and then to show [us] where [we] could have been had it not been for the Lord on [our] side.”
Have you ever been to Zarephath? The question was central to the message delivered by Daven Watkins, pastor of First Baptist Church, Pelham, Ala., as he began the final session of the conference Monday evening. Speaking on 1 Kings 17:17-24, Watkins said Zarephath is “a place where faith is tested, where the improbable becomes possible.”
The town was the place Elijah met a widow who was preparing to cook one last meal for herself and her son. God promised the woman’s flour and oil would not run out, and it didn’t.
“The story showcases God’s power and provision,” Watkins said. First and foremost, the story shows that “obedience is required to the Word of God and the God of the Word,” he said.
Watkins said one of the greatest challenges for the church today is not belief in the Word of God.
“Many people still believe in the Word of God. The greatest challenge is not access. The Bible remains the number one seller, available in print and digital [formats]. The greatest challenge is not even knowledge of the Word even though biblical literacy is at an all-time low,” he said. “The greatest challenge is obedience,” noting high rates of divorce, adultery, pornography use, gossip, malice, slander and a host of other sins within the church. “We have gotten to the place where we are dysfunctionally disobedient.”
Watkins said that God sent Elijah to this place of refining, to this place to be purified, and Elijah was obedient, even when God’s Word didn’t make sense.
“Obedience precedes understanding,” Watkins said. “You don’t have to understand everything. Just be obedient and draw close to the one who is drawing close to you.”
Charlie Dates, pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill., shared from 1 Peter 1:22-25 (NASB) but pegged his message on the last part of the passage, “The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.”
Dates cited examples in recent centuries of this truth, noting theologians Charles Spurgeon, Gardner Calvin Taylor and Billy Graham may have passed away, but God’s Word lives on. It’s the same for all pastors, he said. “The Word we preach will outlive our ministries. What you proclaim will outlive what you’ve done.”
He urged all Christians to love one another, noting Peter wrote “‘Because of our redemption in Jesus Christ, we are bound in Jesus Christ to one another.’ I wish everybody in the church I serve felt this way. Don’t you wish everybody in the church, in the association in which you serve loved one another?”
Dates acknowledge it isn’t easy. “One of the hardest things you’ll ever do in life is to love the folks you go to church with. Our love for one another is not the basis for our salvation, it is the result.”
Using an illustration about a beautiful floral bouquet he gave his wife, Dates said, “When God decided to be the architect of our salvation he did not pick something that would fade, he picked something that would last forever.”
The audience applauded as Dates picked up his cadence and used a variety of phrases to describe God’s living and enduring Word such as, “It will build your faith, it will light your path, it will feed your soul, time cannot age it, the ages cannot time it, it’s the only book that’s ever read you….”
In conclusion, he declared, “Not only is the Word alive and enduring, but when you get the Word in you it sustains you. The Word will keep your feet moving and your gaze steady. The Savior has come, be not dismayed, because the Savior has come. His Word has come. The Word of God endures forever.”
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., delivered the final sermon of the conference on “how God builds His church” with four ideas from Matthew 16.
First, he said, “The power of God works through the apostles’ confessions,” referring to the unchanging message of the Gospel preserved by the writers of scripture.
“In our day, the enemy is resurrecting an age-old lie,” Greear said, “and that lie is that if we don’t change our message, then our days of growth are over…. We need a rising generation of preachers who are committed to preaching what the Bible says.”
Next, Greear encouraged churches to consider ways to serve their communities by sacrificially ministering in areas of greatest need. He said, “The kingdom comes through the cross, not conquest,” adding that Jesus was not a “messiah of political dominance.”
Greear also noted historical facts and recent news that can be discouraging to Southern Baptists, but reminded attendees that “God can take broken and sinful things like us and use them.”
“The promise, not the preacher, is the hope of the world,” he said.
Lastly, Greear charged Southern Baptists to look to the future with confidence that “Jesus’ work done in Jesus’ way is unstoppable.”
He said, “The greatest days of ministry are ahead of somebody. I want it to be us.
“… We believe the He, the Christ, is the only way of salvation for all people; that there is only one name under heaven by which we might be saved; that He is the way, the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father except through Him; and that whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
“It makes no difference whether they are Jew or Greek, whether Black or White, rich or poor, whether young or old, Democrat or Republican, immigrant or citizen, refugee or diplomat. The same Lord is Lord over all who calls upon His name. That confession makes us unstoppable.”
Danny Wood, senior pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., was elected president of Pastors’ Conference during the Monday afternoon session. Wood was nominated by Greg Matte, pastor of First Baptist Church, Houston, Texas and was the only nominee for the office.
“With the Pastors’ Conference and Southern Baptist Convention being held in Birmingham for 2019, Danny Wood is the right choice to lead us in his hometown,” Matte said. He reported Shades Mountain, where Wood has served since 1997, sends 25 percent of its resources outside the church, has mobilized 25 mission trips in the last year and has led in NAMB’s SEND efforts.
“Dr. Wood understands the joys and challenges we face as pastors and will plan a conference that inspires our hearts with great theology and application,” Matte said. (BP)
Compiled by Kathie Chute, with reporting by Marc Hooks, Jennifer Rash, Lisa Misner and Seth Brown.